Human

Single Polish men ‘experience depression and anxiety more than women’, says new study

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Single men are in a complex situation and they have to confront traditional masculinity norms, according to a Polish study. And although they appreciate freedom, independence and peace, they also have a lot of fear and difficult emotions related to fatherhood, among other things.

The experiences of Polish men who live alone have been the subject of analysis by researchers from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań: Dr. Katarzyna Adamczyk, Dr. Marta Mrozowicz-Wrońska and Dr. Emilia Soroko in collaboration with a psychologist from SWPS University, Dr. Kamil Janowicz. The results of their work were published in the journal Sex Roles.

The researchers interviewed men aged 23 to 43, some of whom had never been in a relationship, while others had been close to engagement in the past. The respondents came from large and small towns, had various levels of mental and physical health and various professions. Each of them had been living alone for at least six months. What emerges from their statements is a great ambivalence towards living alone. Men experience 'being single' in the context of various needs and hopes; this status determines the course of their adult lives.

BRIGHT AND DARK SIDES OF FREEDOM

Almost all study participants (91%) noticed that living alone has its advantages and disadvantages. The benefits they mentioned mainly concerned independence, the ability to make autonomous decisions and focus on personal development, pleasures and hobbies.

The disadvantages of living alone reported by men mainly concerned difficulties related to the lack of a partner, unfulfilled relational needs and the feeling of loneliness. For some men, living alone also meant losing the chance to become a father. This experience was also reported by a study participant who had no desire to be in a romantic relationship at all.

During interviews, men also willingly talked about how they adapted to living alone. Some chose to remain stoic and try to make the best of the situation. Others focused on avoiding the negative feelings that came with being alone.

Many participants (77%) also talked about being torn - whether they should just wait for the right person or take active steps to find someone.

'Men from smaller towns complained, for example, that after the age of 30, their dating pool and opportunities to establish relationships were very limited,’ says the publication co-author Dr. Kamil Janowicz.

MEN'S BIOLOGICAL (AND SOCIAL) CLOCK

Study participants (82%) felt that they had characteristics that made it difficult for them to find a person with whom they could start a serious, long-term relationship. Some men indicated illness or mental disorders as the reasons (e.g. infectious disease, depression, alcoholism). Others reported negative experiences at home and felt that past experiences hindered their ability to engage in a serious romantic relationship.

An equally large number of surveyed men (82%) declared a feeling of being 'different' in a society strongly focused on relationships. They also experienced social isolation due to their status. They expressed the belief that they were missing out on something important in their lives, that they were falling behind the 'social schedule' according to which marriage and starting a family must happen at a specific point in life.

Some participants expressed concerns about the passage of time and the ticking of the biological clock. Men from this group were afraid that late parenthood was associated with the risk of genetic diseases, and after the age of 40 - as some of them said - it was too late to be a proper father.

FREEDOM, LONELINESS OR BEING SINGLE?

Scientists tried not to avoid the term 'single' and use 'a person living alone' instead. 'This is a difference because in our culture, the concept of a single has specific connotations. We are talking about a large-city group, well-educated, often economically well-off, with a hedonistic inclination. And the term 'a person living alone' is broader and more neutral,’ says Dr. Janowicz.

'From the experiences of men who took part in the study, primarily a great ambivalence towards single life emerges. On the one hand, they appreciate freedom, independence and peace. The fact that there are no difficulties that arise in relationships. On the other hand, they experience a lot of loneliness, unfulfilled desires regarding relationships, emotional kinship, the ability to share experiences with a close person. There is also a lot of fear, uncertainty, difficult emotions, and often low mood. For most of them, this is not a neutral state,’ Janowicz says.

CONTRARY TO STEREOTYPES

The authors of the publication say that the results question stereotypical views about men living alone. They point out that the Polish cultural context is characterized by a strong attachment to marriage and low acceptance of life outside a romantic relationship. Previous analyses conducted among single men show that they report symptoms of depression and anxiety more often than women in a similar life situation. Some sociological studies indicate that they are often perceived as seducers or mama's boys, in contrast to married men who are presented as fathers, breadwinners, and marriage as 'a transition into adult male life'.

'It is a qualitative study, so it cannot be translated to the entire population. We believe that this study was an opportunity to show their own perspective, the counter-stereotypical point of view of those men who feel lonely,’ says Dr. Janowicz.

The study results may have practical significance for therapists, couches and educators who work with men. Mental health professionals can help men identify obstacles to relationships and offer targeted interventions, such as therapy or social skills training.

'These findings challenge stereotypical and unrealistic views of singlehood among men and have practical implications for psychotherapists, counsellors and educators working with single men,’ the authors write in the source publication.

The study was carried out as part of a SONATA BIS grant project led by Dr. Katarzyna Adamczyk, a professor at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.

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